J Plant Ecol ›› 2014, Vol. 7 ›› Issue (6): 567-575.

• Research Articles •

### Ontogenetic transition in leaf traits: a new cost associated with the increase in leaf longevity

Sonia Mediavilla*, Maria Herranz, Patricia González-Zurdo and Alfonso Escudero

1. Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Salamanca, Salamanca 37071, Spain
• Received:2013-03-05 Accepted:2013-10-14 Published:2014-11-20
• Contact: Mediavilla, Sonia

Abstract: Aims Recent work has identified a worldwide 'economics' spectrum of correlated leaf traits that mainly reflects the compromises between maximizing leaf longevity and short-term productivity. However, during the early stages of tree growth different species tend to exhibit a common strategy, because competition for soil water and nutrients forces the maximization of short-term productivity owing to the need for rapid growth during the most vulnerable part of the tree's life cycle. Accordingly, our aim here was to compare the variations that occur during ontogeny in the different leaf traits (morphology and leaf chemical composition) of several coexisting Mediterranean woody species differing in their leaf life spans and to test our hypothesis that tree species with a long leaf life span should exhibit larger shifts in leaf characteristics along ontogeny.
Methods Six Mediterranean tree species differing in leaf life span, selected from three plots located in central-western Spain, were studied during three growth stages: seedlings, juveniles and mature trees. Leaf life span, leaf morphology (leaf area, dry weight, thickness and mass per unit area) and chemical composition (N and fibre concentrations) were measured in all six species. The magnitude of the ontogenetic changes in the different traits was estimated and related to the mean leaf longevity of the different species.
Important findings Along ontogeny, strong changes were observed in all variables analysed. The early growth stages showed lower leaf thickness, leaf thickness and mass per unit area and N, cellulose and hemicellulose concentrations than mature trees, but a higher lignin content. However, these changes were especially marked in species with a longer leaf life span at maturity. Interspecific differences in leaf life span, leaf morphology and chemical composition were stronger at the mature stage than at the seedling stage. We conclude that greater plasticity and more intense strategy shifts along ontogeny are necessarily associated with long leaf life span. Our results thus provide a new aspect that should be incorporated into the analysis of the costs and benefits associated with the different strategies related to leaf persistence displayed by the different species. Accordingly, the intensity of the alterations in leaf traits among different growth stages should be added to the suite of traits that change along the leaf economics spectrum.

Aims Recent work has identified a worldwide 'economics' spectrum of correlated leaf traits that mainly reflects the compromises between maximizing leaf longevity and short-term productivity. However, during the early stages of tree growth different species tend to exhibit a common strategy, because competition for soil water and nutrients forces the maximization of short-term productivity owing to the need for rapid growth during the most vulnerable part of the tree's life cycle. Accordingly, our aim here was to compare the variations that occur during ontogeny in the different leaf traits (morphology and leaf chemical composition) of several coexisting Mediterranean woody species differing in their leaf life spans and to test our hypothesis that tree species with a long leaf life span should exhibit larger shifts in leaf characteristics along ontogeny.
Methods Six Mediterranean tree species differing in leaf life span, selected from three plots located in central-western Spain, were studied during three growth stages: seedlings, juveniles and mature trees. Leaf life span, leaf morphology (leaf area, dry weight, thickness and mass per unit area) and chemical composition (N and fibre concentrations) were measured in all six species. The magnitude of the ontogenetic changes in the different traits was estimated and related to the mean leaf longevity of the different species.
Important findings Along ontogeny, strong changes were observed in all variables analysed. The early growth stages showed lower leaf thickness, leaf thickness and mass per unit area and N, cellulose and hemicellulose concentrations than mature trees, but a higher lignin content. However, these changes were especially marked in species with a longer leaf life span at maturity. Interspecific differences in leaf life span, leaf morphology and chemical composition were stronger at the mature stage than at the seedling stage. We conclude that greater plasticity and more intense strategy shifts along ontogeny are necessarily associated with long leaf life span. Our results thus provide a new aspect that should be incorporated into the analysis of the costs and benefits associated with the different strategies related to leaf persistence displayed by the different species. Accordingly, the intensity of the alterations in leaf traits among different growth stages should be added to the suite of traits that change along the leaf economics spectrum.